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Sound advice about keeping noise down

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Sound advice about keeping noise down

1 December 2008

Daily Telegraph

Exposure to loud noise can pose a risk to hearing in the long term, writes Catherine Nikas-Boulos

AS AN actor, Jon Sivewright is accustomed to the pressure to perform on cue. But while his role of Tony Holden in Home And Away is a dream break, working on the fast-paced set presents some extra challenges.

Sivewright suffers from tinnitus, a permanent form of noise-induced hearing loss which in his case is a result of a three-year stint in the mining industry.

He doesn't often miss his prompt on set but must make an extra effort to listen to the director.

"I get a constant ringing in my ears when there's not a lot of background noise. It's like listening to a thousand cicadas,'' says Sivewright, who also worked as a firefighter before switching to acting.

"I don't hear it when I'm talking to people but when I'm lying down or when it's quiet it screams in your ear. Every now and then it feels like my ears are blocked but for the sound of vacuum in there.''

It is estimated 130 million people in the developed world have some degree of hearing loss. Australian Hearing says it affects one in six Australians.

The primary cause of this is noise-induced, making it the world's most common occupational illness.

According to the World Health Organisation, the incidence of noise-induced hearing loss is increasing and while it is commonly caused by industrial noise, it can also be attributed to loud music in nightclubs, pubs and at concerts.

Loud noise is also the primary preventable cause of hearing loss and the higher the noise level and longer the exposure, the greater the damage risk.

Sivewright, 43, says his condition stems from his time in mining and possibly from playing the guitar too loudly over a prolonged period of time.

Although he has long given up mine duties, music remains a passion and he is quick to defend this "noisy'' pastime.

"A good mate of mine and I played guitar a lot back then and it does not seem to have affected him,'' he laughs.

Sometimes his tinnitus increases and then it is a case of weathering the storm.

"I've learned to manage it mostly, but it can bother me to the point of frustration once every few months, where I want to scream, 'Get out of my brain','' he says.

"About three times a year I get a sensation that feels like an air block. Thankfully, that's only happened to me once on a job.''

A new Australian innovation would have made a huge difference to Sivewright's health had it been available 15 years ago.

The Sensear is a device that allows speech to be heard while protecting users from dangerous background noise in industrial environments or the pounding vibes of a nightclub.

The world-first technology minimises background noise allowing clear face-to-face, mobile phone or two-way radio communication. It looks like an iPod complete with headphones that sit in the ear. Sensear is now being used nationally by Alcoa, Rio Tinto, Woodside and Qantas, and about 50 other global companies are trialling the product.

Sensear CEO Justin Miller says the response after the trials has been encouraging, with companies placing bigger orders as users benefit from safe communication in noisy environments.

While the risk of hearing loss for industrial workers has been long recognised, a new at-risk group is also causing concern. A recent study for the European Union has confirmed what most people already suspect; digital players are having a devastating and permanent effect on young eardrums.

The study by specialists from the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks suggests 5 to 10 per cent of the people who listen to an MP3 player at a high volume for more than an hour a day risk permanent hearing loss.

The study reported that between 2.5million and 10 million people are at risk and there is growing concern about excessive exposure to such devices.

The panel found that five hours per week with a volume above 89 decibels would exceed the limits in place for noise allowed in the workplace. Users listening for longer periods risk permanent hearing loss after five years, according to the findings.

Rough estimates indicate there are up to 100 million people who may be listening to portable MP3 music players daily.

These findings come off the back of a warning from a professor who has called for Australia to introduce hearing-loss warnings on MP3 players, similar to the health warnings found on cigarette packets.

Griffith University's Professor Merv Hyde is shocked that young children have shown signs of permanent hearing damage.

He says listening to an MP3 player on a loud setting should not exceed more than 20 minutes. Without regulations or warnings to that effect, children and teenagers are setting themselves up for hearing problems.

More information: www.hearing.com.au and www.sensear.com

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I've always thought I had it as whenever I'm not talking to someone or its quiet I have a constant ringing noise but it never sounds as loud as a vaccum. So I know it must be annoying especially if it's that bad. Hopefully it wont get worse and affect his acting career.

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